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Celebrating like champions in Bird Island

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Jenna Friton, left, helps Lance Gluth put seven-month-old Kristen Gluth into the Stanley Cup before taking a photo of it when the cup visited Bird Island, Minn., Monday, July 23. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service2 / 7
John Benson holds the Danube Cup, a victory cup given to a hockey club teams in Danube, Minn., that he held while taking a photo with the Stanley Cup in Bird Island, Minn., Monday, July 23. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service3 / 7
Jason Serbus, Bird Island, Minn., native and head athletic trainer for the Washington Capitals, gives his signed photo to a fan when the Stanley Cup visited Bird Island Monday, July 23. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service4 / 7
Jason Serbus, Bird Island, Minn., native and head athletic trainer for the Washington Capitals, signs autographs when the Stanley Cup visited Bird Island Monday, July 23. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service5 / 7
Ava Zetah, 12, gives the Stanley Cup a kiss when the Stanley Cup visited Bird Island, Minn., Monday, July 23. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service6 / 7
People line the sidewalk of U.S. Highway 212 to view the Stanley Cup in Bird Island, Minn., Monday, July 23. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service7 / 7

BIRD ISLAND, Minn.—A two-hour visit of the Stanley Cup to Bird Island attracted visitors Monday afternoon, July 23, from both ends of Minnesota and beyond, easily doubling if not tripling the population of the Renville County community of roughly 1,000 people.

"How many people? A lot," said Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable who, like everyone else, could only guess how many people lined up for a 10-second opportunity to stand by the National Hockey League championship trophy and have their photo taken.

The official photographer snapped images of at least 600 groups before it was all over, with groups ranging in size from one to several people. At the 1 p.m. start Monday, there was a three-block lineup of people on the city sidewalk along U.S. Highway 212 leading to the Broaster restaurant and the parking lot where the trophy was placed.

The people at the head of the line were from Watertown, S.D., having arrived at 9:30 a.m. Monday. Hable heard there were some who had come from Wisconsin. Organizers even heard of foreign visitors from Saudi Arabia and Australia who happened to be in the state and came to see the Stanley Cup.

The good news is that everyone who came to have their photograph with the Cup had the chance. The lineup of people ended by 2:30 p.m., and Hable reported the entire event went very well.

All of it left the man responsible for bringing the Cup to Bird Island feeling "humble."

"To just sit here and see people's faces, excited and elated," said Jason Serbus of what he enjoyed the most. He joined the championship Washington Capitals as the head athletic director one year ago, and was among those chosen to take advantage of the tradition of having the Stanley Cup for a day.

Serbus is a Bird Island native, and his mother, Val, is a volunteer with the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation. Foundation members organized the event, and those who came for photos offered donations to support it.

Before the trophy reached the public showing outside the Broaster restaurant, the Serbus family indulged in a dream of their own, serving ice cream from the Cup at the family home.

Serbus arrived in a Bird Island fire truck carrying the Cup, hoisting it over his head as people applauded. He had done the same in Washington, D.C., before a crowd estimated at 500,000 after the Capitals won the coveted trophy.

At the public display in Bird Island, babies were hoisted into the Cup for photos, and others kissed and rubbed it.

Richard Pearson of New London was among those who placed his six-month-old daughter, Gwen, in the Cup. He would not let his two sons touch it, however, stating that he was well-aware of the jinx that no one who touches it will ever win it.

Along with wanting to see the Cup, Pearson said the family also thought it was a great opportunity to support the Tim Orth Foundation and its work. The organization helps families in the area who have children facing major medical challenges.

"Just to see the Cup," said Ramona Kastner and Linda Neuman of New Ulm and Harris, respectively, as to why the two women—and hockey fans—made the trip.

Alan Poff and his son, Sam, came from Granite Falls sporting Capitals attire. Alan Poff said he and his wife had lived in Washington, D.C., for a number of years, and had been Capitals fans.

"To see the Cup, and Bird Island, of course," said Poff when asked why he made the trip.

Mike Ingalls and 12-year-old grandson Lance made the trip from Monticello.

"Actually got to see a crop duster on the way," said Mike Ingalls. He admitted that he had to pull out a map to find Bird Island before making the trip. He said he still remembers seeing the Cup when it was in Bloomington in 1991.

John and Liz Herbeck made the trip to Bird Island from Belle Plaine. John Herbeck said he went to school in North Dakota when the Capitals' Shane Gersich played for the University of North Dakota. Herbeck said he jumped at the chance when he learned the Cup would be in Bird Island. "Where else can I see it?" he asked.

While not everyone might associate Bird Island with hockey, the small town's role as the capital of the State of Hockey for an afternoon was not without merit.

Val Serbus, mother of Jason, was quick to point out that her children and most of the children in the small town grew up playing pond hockey on a small pond just a few blocks from where the Cup was on display.

Just down the highway in the Renville County community of Danube, the local Athletic Association built a hockey rink a couple of years ago to promote the sport and outdoor athletics for youth.

John Benson built a trophy for the Danube Athletic Association's hockey champions based on the Stanley Cup, and he and Jim Standfuss, whose team won the trophy this last winter, came to have their photo taken with both trophies.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335